Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Smartest Guy in the Room?

This past Sunday evening I found myself with my feet up watching CPAC broadcast the most recent Liberal leadership race live from Vancouver. Good scheduling on the Liberals’ part, most Canadians are free at dinnertime on a Sunday.

Later as the debate progressed I flicked over and saw that the finale for Canadian Idol was on. It dawned on me that it was quite possible that I was the only TV viewer in the entire country who was watching the debate live.

For those of you who didn’t catch it here are the highlights in alphabetical order: Bob Rae. That’s it. End of highlights.

I remember exactly where I was the moment I heard Bob Rae wanted to be leader of the Liberal party. Its one of those seared in sense memory thingies, like remembering where you were when the Challenger blew up or you heard Stockwell Day was straight.

Honestly, Bob Rae wanting to be Liberal leader seemed so bizarre I figured it was just a matter of time before Bob would be on the TV revealing the tragic results of the CAT scan.

Nothing against Rae of course, I’m sure he means well – it’s just that his record as NDP premier of Ontario will never go away. It’s like Herpes. That’s forever.

But watching the debate in Vancouver I realized that my initial reaction was way off. Believe it or not Bob Rae has the big mo. Standing up there on the stage in front of all those Liberals – Bob Rae looked like a Prime Minister and Michael Ignatieff looked like he was digesting a bag of California spinach.

Poor Iggy.

In the media Ignatieff is usually described as “current frontrunner.” Soon that will make way for “former frontrunner,” and eventually Ignatieff will simply be called “disappointed”. This was not the way this was supposed to play out.

Iggy’s problem is not the number of delegates he has or his support in the Liberal caucus. He’s got a healthy pile of these folks in his pocket. His problem is while delegates may be political junkies they work and walk among civilians. Part of the job of a delegate is to constantly bore the hell out of everyone at the office talking about this leadership race. And as the leadership slowly makes it onto the civilian radar more and more of these civilians are asking their delegate friends why in god’s name they think Michael Ignatieff is electable.

Right now there are a lot of confirmed Iggy supporters who are starting to wonder whether or not they have backed the wrong horse.

Some people have suggested that Canadians aren’t warming up to Iggy because of his intellectual credentials. I don’t buy this. Canadians don’t mind that Ignatieff is the smartest guy in the room; what bugs them is that he acts like it. We can’t relate to a guy like that – personally I’m happy if I’m the smartest guy in the elevator.

To be fair though this is probably an occupational hazard that comes with being a Harvard professor .And this alone isn’t fatal; in fact it’s pretty common actually. Our current Prime Minister also thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room – although when you consider the type of room Harper usually finds himself in, you can hardly blame him. When Harper exits a caucus meeting it’s not entirely clear if the title “smartest guy in the room” immediately shifts to his parliamentary secretary or the jade plant.

Of course my gut feeling that suddenly this is Rae’s race is hardly scientific. There are still some people who think Iggy can take this sucker on the first ballot, and really the opinion of a non delegate like me watching at home on the couch is entirely irrelevant.

Also in the spirit of full disclosure I have to admit that there were times during the debate when I was not entirely awake; in fact I think I nodded off a few times. I was, like so many other Canadians, simply killing time on a Sunday evening staring at the TV with a beer between my knees – and from that perspective Bob Rae is now the guy to beat.